The Attorney-General of Australia, Mark Dreyfus, on Thursday announced that the Australian government will introduce legislation banning the Nazi Swastika and Schutzstaffel (SS) symbols from public display and sale. The law will be introduced in the Australian Parliament next week and imposes up to 12 months in prison for those who display or sell the hate symbols.
Speaking at a press conference in Melbourne on Thursday, Dreyfus cited the rise in neo-Nazi activity as the impetus behind the bill.
“Over the past year, just meters from here in Melbourne, we’ve seen the appalling and disturbing display of hatred, Nazi flags and symbols displayed on the streets of our city,” Dreyfus said. “I find it almost unthinkable that this legislation is even necessary. Thousands of Australians fought and died to defeat this evil and thousands more found refuge in our country from the evils of the Holocaust. But we do need to act and we do need to make it clear that we will not tolerate this kind of conduct.”
The bill includes exemptions for literary, academic, scientific or religious use of the symbols, including the use of swastikas by Hindus, Jains, and other religious groups whose use of swastika iconography is part of their faith tradition and has no connection to Nazism.
Australian Jewish groups broadly welcomed the bill.
“Australian right-wing extremists deserve contempt and ridicule, but also need clear deterrents to their harmful behavior,” said Jeremy Jones of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). “The proposed commonwealth laws appears to be designed to supplement existing and proposed state Nazi symbol laws in several useful ways – it clearly applies to symbols displayed online, it bans the traffic in Nazi memorabilia, and it provides police with the ability to immediately act to deal with the display of Nazi symbols by giving them the power to order their immediate removal.”
One area of concern about the bill is that it does not ban the Nazi salute at the federal level, despite a ban on the salute by several Australian states, and that it excludes other symbols used by hate groups.
“Our concern is that neo-Nazi groups will circumvent the legislation simply by using the Totenkopf (deaths head), sonenrad (sun wheel) and other well-known Nazi symbols instead of the two prohibited symbols,” the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said in a statement. “We have urged the government to review the legislation periodically so that if our concerns are borne out, the prohibitions may in due course be extended to the display of other Nazi symbols.”
Dreyfus said in response to a question about such concerns that this legislation was a first step.
“The purpose of this law is to identify [and] directly prohibit the two most prominent of the Nazi symbols,” he said. “And no one should think of this as an end. This, if you like, is a beginning, if we need to do more, we will.”
While Dreyfus said he expects the bill will receive bipartisan support, Australian Opposition Leader Peter Dutton of the Liberal Party said he intended to introduce an amendment to the bill to include a federal ban on the Nazi salute as well.